Carvings of the Chariot of the Sun in Stone are charming. Artisans in India built Sun temples in the past with inspiration from Puranas texts. (We notice a completely different idea of the Chariot of Sun (Helios or Sol) in Greek and Roman mythologies. Therefore, this analysis is limited to ideas in the Veda). Firstly, Puranas attempt to simplify ideas in the Vedas into metaphors, in this case the Chariot. Secondly, artisans used their creativity to chisel the metaphor on stone. Certainly, there are differences between what we see in Stone and in the texts. Firstly, the texts say that the Sun’s chariot moves on one wheel. Let us understand the metaphor of the lone wheel of the Chariot of the Sun. Let us begin with a short poem.
The Lone Wheel of the Chariot of the Sun A lone wheel spins for Sun's massive chariot Spinning fast carrying light through the year! A Lone wheel turns on three, not one pivots casting a mirage fresh every moment A Lone wheel moves with five strong spokes showing off time Cautioning us of the season's end A Lone wheel treads with six not one rims Shifting sky's moods showering down a brand-new bounty
The chariot of the Sun has a rim on its lone wheel for each season. Secondly, experts explain the three pivots at the center to be the Past, Present and Future. These three are merely perspectives. However, the human brain uses these to sustain the idea of a linear Time. Thirdly, a spinning wheel can propel a chariot forward only because its spokes bind the rim to the wheel center. The spokes of the Chariot of the Sun are human measures for the seasons. Why does the Chariot of the Sun need five spokes?
Five parts or divisions of Panchang
Vedic people tracked the progress of a season in five ways. The Indian calendar or the Panchang show all the five parts even today. Firstly, a season can be monitored in day units. A week or the Vara is a cycle of these units. Secondly, we can monitor the advance of a season in Thithi units. Thirty Thithi units form the lunation cycle. Thirdly, we can know the march of a season in Karana units. The Karana units form a 60-unit cycle. Fourthly, we can assess the remaining portion of a Season in Nakshatra units. Twenty-seven of these units form a cycle, namely, the sidereal month of the Moon. Finally, a season can be measured in Yoga units which also form a cycle of 27 units.
People engaged in different professions preferred different measures. These options (of the five parts in a Panchang) may seem confusing and irrelevant to us. However, they are each related to cycles in nature. For example, the Karana cycle is like the Farmer’s Almanac in the west. Farmers in India, until three generations ago, fixed the sowing days according to Karana tables. The Thithi cycle is useful in matters of mind and emotions. Consulting the Vara cycle can provide a boost in matters of transformation. Those interested in optimizing growth potential began the corresponding activities after consulting the Nakshatra cycle. Finally. the Yoga cycle (Astronomy or Panchang Yoga!…) is all about clues on matters of synergies.
Some experts do not agree that the spokes represent measures of time. They believe them to be five equal divisions of the year. Each division has seventy-three days. Certainly, they have a valid argument. The Samba Purana and the Veda say that the five spokes are “Artava”. The word Artava indicates something related to or derived from the word Ritu or season. The five Artava are children of Ritu. But this takes us to another topic and a future post.
The Chariot of Helios and Sol
The idea of the Chariot of Sun in other cultures is quite different. We cannot analyze the ideas there to a similar depth. For example, Helios is the Sun God in the Greek tradition. In the story of Phaeton, the son of Helios, the Chariot of the Sun veers out of control. It chars the skin of humans in Africa. We do not see anything similar to this in Vedic literature.
Sol, the Sun God, rides a chariot drawn by four horses in Roman mythology. Romans began celebrating the winter solstice as the celebration of Sun racing his chariot. Scholars say that the day celebrates two versions of the Roman Sun god, namely, Sol Indigens and Deus Sol Invictus. These represent the older and the newer ideas of Sun God in Rome. We do not find anything like this in the Vedic tradition for the Chariot of the Sun.